“Entrepreneurship in Rhode Island: How to Grow it!” was the focus of Sullivan & Company’s standing room only annual economic outlook breakfast. The forum featured panelists Gina Raimondo, General Treasurer of the State of Rhode Island, Neil Steinberg, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Rhode Island Foundation; and Chamber President Laurie White.
Raymond Murphy, Principal of Sullivan & Company moderated the discussion, which highlighted the resources needed to grow entrepreneurship in Rhode Island, especially during this economic climate. One of the primary challenges entrepreneurs face is finding the financial resources to grow and implement their innovations. Another is connecting with local mentors who help to guide the progression and development of new venture business plans, promoting their chances of viability.
Public and private partnerships are essential ingredients in solving new venture hurdles in Rhode Island, noted General Treasurer Gina Raimondo. She mentioned the story of Utilidata, a start up company from the State of Washington, that was lured to the Ocean State by the venture firm Braemar Energy Ventures, whose principal lives in Rhode Island. The CEO of Utilidata is quoted as saying Rhode Island is a great place to partner with government and make innovative things happen. He cited the proximity to a highly skilled workforce and lower real estate costs compared to Boston. All of which are unique assets and advantages in this State, that we need to aggressively promote. Raimondo stated that a sense of urgency is in order to move Rhode Island forward.
Neil Steinberg shared the uplifting story of the Rhode Island Innovation Fellowship, a new initiative launched by the Rhode Island Foundation in 2011 to stimulate ideas for growth within the State. The Foundation received 438 letters of interest with diverse and compelling ideas on how to solve some of Rhode Island’s issues. Steinberg also commented on the immediate need for collaboration to put 15,000 – 20,000 people back to work, in order to significantly lower Rhode Island’s unemployment rate.
There are a number of positive activities to proclaim in the Rhode Island entrepreneurial scene and Laurie White mentioned a few. She noted the mandate in the National Governor’s Association report entitled “Growing State Economies: Twelve Actions” which called for the executive branch to focus on instituting start-up company policies.
White mentioned the work of GPCC’s Innovation Providence Implementation Council and their investment in local entrepreneurial activity. IPIC has invested close to $500,000 in various new venture projects and has developed an Action Agenda to focus its work. IPIC is also benchmarking Rhode Island’s progress, in comparison to other states, to measure activity associated with the knowledge economy.
Referencing the recently released CNBC rankings where Rhode Island ranked 50th out of 50 states, White noted that infrastructure and workforce were two areas where Rhode Island especially ranked extremely poor. White called for state investments in this area in order to grow our economy, and cited investments by Massachusetts, Ohio, Maryland and Kentucky targeting improvements in these arenas. Areas where Rhode Island showed progress were in the categories of public education and access to capital. She concluded by stating that we cannot shy away from the tough discussions–referencing recently questioned economic development efforts — on the contrary, these dialogues need to be embraced by state policy leaders. White also noted the need to continue focusing our energies and investment in education and infrastructure in Rhode Island.
A Q&A session following the panel presentation prompted queries into topics such as taxes, such as eliminating the inventory tax; the advantages of regionalism; use of economic development incentives and identifying the efforts to date that promote and assist existing businesses.